School enrollment decline steepens slightly
A census taken October 1 in Martha's Vineyard Public Schools (MVPS) revealed that enrollment declined more at West Tisbury School and less at Martha's Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) than school officials had expected.
MVPS enrollment continued to decline this year, at an increased rate of 2.2 percent compared to 1.8 percent in 2008.
According to the census, there were 2,034 students attending town elementary schools and Martha's Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS), a decline of 47 students from last year.
Superintendent of schools James Weiss provided the information at a meeting of the All-Island School Committee (AISC) last Thursday night.
"I think other than West Tisbury School, the elementary enrollments are basically static, and we expected that," Mr. Weiss said in a follow-up call the next day. "The high school is down less than we had anticipated, so the only thing that caught us by surprise, if you will, would be the more than anticipated decline in enrollment in West Tisbury."
Elementary school enrollments in grades K-8 dropped by 36 students, about 2.6 percent, from 1,362 in 2008 to 1,326 this year, after remaining somewhat stable from 2007 to 2008.
Among the elementary schools, West Tisbury School's enrollment decreased most, by 25 students, from 292 students in 2008 to 267 this year. Tisbury School's enrollment dropped by 10. Enrollment at Edgartown and Oak Bluffs schools fell only slightly, by 2 and 3, respectively. Chilmark School showed the only enrollment increase, up to 43 students from 39 last year.
At the regional high school, a trend in declining enrollment slowed somewhat this year. Enrollment decreased by 11 students, about 1.5 percent, from 719 in 2008 to 708 this year. The 2008 enrollment, however, represented a 6 percent decrease from 2007, with 47 fewer students.
In a phone call before school opened in September, MVRHS principal Steve Nixon said the number of freshmen transfer students was higher than expected. According to the October census, the incoming freshmen class totals 203 students, a 23 percent increase over 165 freshmen in 2008.
"The interesting thing about the high school enrollment is that if you look at the progression, the freshmen class coming in is a large group of students," Mr. Weiss said. "And the other classes are in the 160's, 170's, so that's a significant increase that we did not expect to see. We thought we would be at the 180, 185 level, so there are another 20 students we didn't anticipate."
In comparing high school enrollments by town, Aquinnah and Edgartown show the biggest decline. The number of students from Aquinnah fell from 19 in the 2008 census to 13 this year. The number of students from Edgartown fell from 191 to 179. Tisbury's enrollment remained the same, at 170, and Chilmark's dropped by 1. Oak Bluffs and West Tisbury showed increases of 5 and 3, respectively.
The latest MVPS census figures deviate slightly from enrollment projections through 2012 in a study prepared by the New England School Development Council (NESDC) in November 2007.
NESDC updates Island school enrollment projections annually using a model called the Cohort Survival Model. Mr. Weiss's office provides data, including the number of live births and building starts on Martha's Vineyard.
NESDC's 2007 study projected that enrollment in the Up-Island Regional School District, particularly West Tisbury School, would remain relatively flat, growing slightly from 2008 to 2012.
"This year's census was more of a decline than we had anticipated," Mr. Weiss said. "We thought the leveling would be starting for 2010 and 2011, and it doesn't appear to have done so in West Tisbury."
As for MVRHS, the NESDC study projected an enrollment of 713 students, including 197 ninth-graders, in the 2009-10 school year, and a drop in enrollment to 687 in 2011-12.
Although declining enrollment has a tangible effect on the school budget in terms of staff, class sizes, and curriculum, Mr. Weiss said the high school's decrease of 11 students, spread out over a student body of 708, would not have much of an impact. "The decline is not such that I think there's going to be a huge reduction in staff based upon enrollment," he said. "So if the desire, again, is to get that high school budget down, it's going to have to be based upon, really, reductions in service. And again, our broader community needs to take a look at that."
Enrollment at Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School is at 180, as capped by the state, director Bob Moore said in a phone call a few weeks ago. The Charter School's funding is limited by the state to nine percent of each Island school district's budget, which allows a certain number of students from each town.
"We have an increased enrollment in our high school, of up to 44 students," he said. "That's probably about 9 more than last year, so we're happy about that."
In looking at enrollment in relationship to school budgets, for fiscal year 2010 (FY10), 1,016 students are enrolled in Edgartown, Oak Bluffs and Tisbury schools, and the operating budgets total about $16,480,480 (not including benefits, insurance, Charter School and School Choice assessments, and debt reduced by general fund revenues).
For the 310 students enrolled in the Up-Island Regional School District, the combined FY10 operating budgets for the Chilmark and West Tisbury schools total about $8,369,134 (including benefits, employees' health insurance, insurance, capital costs, and debt reduced by general fund revenues).
The regional high school has an enrollment of 708 and an FY10 operating budget of about $16,945,783 (including payroll obligations, transportation, benefits, insurance, Charter School assessments, capital costs, and debt reduced by general fund revenues).
MVPS school budget numbers were provided by the superintendent's office in September.
The Charter School's FY10 budget is $3,490,000 (including benefits and insurance). Charter schools receive per-pupil allocations from the state only for operational costs and must rely on private fundraising for capital improvements, building and site fees.